As tragic as the story of Andrew Gillum‘s involvement in a situation that included the unfortunate collision of drugs, a male escort and a hotel room in Miami Beach may be, history has shown that it doesn’t necessarily spell a political downfall from which he can’t return.
While all the details surrounding the suspected crystal meth incident on early Friday morning had yet to be fully sorted out, Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee, announced he would be retreating from public life and entering a rehab facility for help for the “alcohol abuse” and “depression” that he has suffered from since his unsuccessful Florida gubernatorial candidacy in 2018, he said in a brief statement on Sunday. The CNN analyst who was also rumored to be on a shortlist of potential Democratic vice presidential running mates added that he “will be stepping down from all public facing roles for the foreseeable future.”
Gillum, who also at one point even met with former President Barack Obama amid speculation about a possible 2020 presidential campaign, followed a similar public relations strategy used by other politicians who have been found in similarly compromising positions over the years before they ultimately mounted successful comebacks to rebound from scandals that at the time seemed to doom their careers. But a closer look at those politicians who, like Gillum, were thrust into news cycle for all the wrong reasons, showed that it took a careful, deliberate and team effort to rebrand themselves as people who have learned their lessons and were eager to regain the trust of a leery but ultimately forgiving public.
“We’re seeing more and more people attempt these comebacks, and it’s a well-planned operation,” David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, a public relations and political consulting firm in Suwanee, Georgia, told NPR back in 2013. “We’ve become over and over again more used to scandals in our public figures, and more accepting.” Johnson added at the time that “It’s no longer a big deal,” an assertion that is also likely to hold up in 2020 with Gillum and his situation.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
Anthony Weiner, a former congressman who resigned in 2011 over a sexting scandal found himself leading a 2013 poll of candidates running for New York City mayor. After losing in the Democratic primary, Weiner in 2017 pleaded guilty to sexting with a minor and served two years in prison before his release last year. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is another example of a politician unable to recover from his scandal. After a remarkable tenure as the state’s attorney general, Spitzer was elected as governor in 2006 only for it to all come crumbling down after he was exposed in a major prostitution ring. The once-popular governor has never recovered from that scandal and even lost the race for New York City Comptroller in 2013.
Still, whether its drugs or extramarital affairs or some other kind of indiscretion labeled as taboo by American society, history shows that there is a smoothly paved road to redemption for many politicians looking to regain the trust of the public and successfully mount a political comeback. After all, no matter what was happening in Gillum’s personal life, he was still doing good and important work professionally as the chairman of Forward Florida Action, a political group “registering and reengaging voters who are often unseen and unheard, electing more leaders that share our values to local office, and making the state legislature more diverse,” according it its website.
Scroll down to find five examples that suggest the political career of Gillum, who is just 40 years old, is far from over — but only if that’s what he chooses.
1. Ted KennedySource:Getty
The late Sen. Ted Kennedy was able to overcome his role in the death of a young woman in Martha’s Vineyard in 1969 and go on to not only run for president but also become one the most respected politicians and Democrats in the country. That was in spite of persistent rumors that he was a drunk and may have been under the influence when he drove his car off a bridge and killed his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.
Pictured: Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy leaves the Dukes County Courthouse in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on July 25, 1969, after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal auto accident. Late on July 18, Kennedy’s car plunged into a pond on Chappaquiddick Island. He was able to escape but Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, his passenger, drowned. (Photo by Joe Dennehy/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
2. Gavin NewsomSource:Getty
Gavin Newsom was elected the governor of California in January 2019 despite admitting while he was San Francisco mayor in 2007 to having a drinking problem and an extramarital affair with Ruby Rippey-Tourk, the wife of his re-election campaign manager, Alex Tourk, who resigned after learning of the affair.
Pictured: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom looks on during a swearing-in ceremony for San Francisco City assessor Phil Ting February 1, 2007, in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
3. Mark SanfordSource:Getty
As the governor of South Carolina, Sanford went into hiding for nearly a week after being outed for his extramarital affair with an Argentinian journalist in 2009. After resigning from the senate, he would eventually go on to win a congressional race in 2013.
Pictured: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford explains his six-day absence and extramarital affair to members of the news media in Columbia, South Carolina on Wednesday, June 24, 2009. Staffers said the governor was hiking the Appalachian Trail but The State Media Co. reported he spent time in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Tim Dominick/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
4. Barney FrankSource:Getty
Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank in 1989 admitted to hiring a male prostitute to be his personal aide two years after he came out as being gay. Frank even admitted to paying the male prostitute for sex. Despite being reprimanded by the House, Frank was re-elected and servide his 16th term in Congress before retiring in 2012.
Pictured: Barney Frank pauses at the end of his press conference in 1989. (Photo by Janet Knott/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
5. Marion Barry, 1990
In what should be evidence that no scandal is too big to prevent a politician from making an electoral comeback, District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry was busted in an FBI sting for smoking crack cocaine with a prostitute in a hotel room in 1990. Barry was forced to resign from City Hall as well as the City Council and was sentenced to six months in prison. But two years later he was re-elected to the city council and two years after that he was re-elected as mayor before returning to serve the city council from 2000-2014.